Normally I wouldn’t consider writing about a bowl game unless it was for the national title, but in light of last night’s shocker in the desert I have to give my opinion on that game, and consequently what it means for MAC football in general. The University of Central Florida went off as a 16.5-point underdog against the top scoring team in the country, the Baylor Bears, at 52.4 PPG. Central Florida came in at 11-1 but with little respect from Las Vegas oddsmakers and the national pundits. Baylor, on the other hand, came from the Big 12 with a highly respected coach in Art Briles and an offense that was blowing the doors off its competition. However, like in any sport, your offense might be dynamic but if your defense can’t stop anyone then you’re a mediocre team. Last night offered no exception to the rule.
The Central Florida Knights came in as champs of the newly-formed American Conference (that replaced the Big East) and behind their top-notch QB Blake Bortles. The Knights showed that sometimes a little defense needs to be played. Baylor did score 42 points of their own but they were kept below their season average while giving up 52 in a game that was never actually close. UCF jumped out to a two-touchdown lead early in the game and Baylor was left to play catch up for the rest of the night. Art Briles and Bryce Petty couldn’t keep up as their atrocious defense consistently failed to stop UCF’s air and ground assault that racked up 556 yards.
What does the MAC have to do with the Fiesta Bowl? Had Northern Illinois taken care of business in the MAC Championship game the Huskies would’ve been playing Baylor in the Fiesta instead of UCF. (Insert laugh track.) Northern Illinois – for all their apparent success over the last couple of seasons – lost their bowl game by 7 to a Utah State team with five losses on their season. Northern Illinois got shellacked by Bowling Green in the MAC Championship by 20 points, who in turn lost to Pittsburgh by a small margin when Pitt barely qualified for a bowl game. Can the human imagination contemplate Northern Illinois as a worthy replacement for the UCF that beat the heavily-favored Baylor?
Well, I don’t mean to suggest that my limited imagination should be a stand-in for all of humankind, but I can’t imagine a result that wouldn’t see Baylor with a lopsided win over the Huskies. Look, no one should be including NIU (or any other MAC team) in the BCS conversation until its regular schedule includes several real BCS contenders. Recall the non-contender Iowa game last year, Huskies? A mere precursur of things to come later against Florida State. Neither the Huskies nor any other MAC team ever plays defense. Year-in and year-out there will always be that lesser college team with the solo superstar who leads his team to either a single-loss or undefeated season that pulls at our little-guy underdog strings to be considered for an at-large bid. We need the strength to resist such ridiculousness.
The UCF victory last night proved once and for all that no MAC team should be allowed to disrupt college football any longer. The MAC is the college-football equivalent of Arena Ball, and (gulp) had NIU managed to win the MAC Championship it would have deprived the nation of last night’s amazingly spectacular game and worthy win by a top-notch UCF team and replaced it by yet another travesty of BCS calculations.